Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues: Exploring The Spiritual Themes Of The Lord Of The Rings, by Mark Eddy Smith
This book is a classic example of a secondary work whose whole reason for being depends on the primary existence and popularity of an existing work, namely the Lord of the Rings. The author has clearly read the Lord of the Rings multiple times and views it as a worthwhile book in ethical instruction, and this book has the added benefit of being far shorter than the book it happens to be about, making this a comparatively easy book to read for those who are interested in the Lord of the Rings and also have an interest in defending and (hopefully) exhibiting some of the virtues described in the volume and portrayed by various characters in the Lord of the Rings. The fact that Tolkien was such an openly Christian writer who was interested in exploring the implications of his faith on his fantasy world makes it particularly obvious that this book would be dealing with virtues that were intentionally rather than accidentally being presented in the work. A reader who wants to see the virtues exhibited by the characters within Lord of the Rings can be sure that this book presents what Tolkien put into his books.
This book is a short one at less than 150 pages but has 30 chapters and is divided into six parts based on the six parts of the Lord of the Rings. After acknowledgements and an introduction, this book begins with a discussion of five virtues that can be found in the first part of the Fellowship of the Ring (I), namely the simplicity of hobbits (1), the generosity of Bilbo (2), the friendship of Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Sam (3), the hospitality shown to the hobbits as they begin their quest (4), and the faith shown by Frodo (5). After that there are six virtues demonstrated in the second half of Fellowship of the ring (II), namely perspective (6), community (7), sacrifice (8), wonder (9), temptation (10), and failure (11), the last two of which are somewhat surprising to think about in the context of virtue. The third part of the book then looks at the virtues of atonement (12), suffering (13), resurrection (14), humility (15), and providence (16) that can be found in the first half of The Two Towers (III). After that comes a discussion of the virtues of trust (17), trustworthiness (18), wisdom (19), hope (20), and imagination (21) that can be seen in the second half of the Two Towers (IV). The virtuous views of submission (22), stewardship (23), courage (24), mirth (25), and foolishness (26) are discussed for the first half of The Return Of The King (V). Finally, the book ends with a discussion of perseverance (27), celebration (28), justice (29), and love (30) are explored for the second half of The Return Of The King (VI), after which there is a conclusion and bibliography.
Is this book an enjoyable one? That depends. Potential readers would do best to consider whether they have already read Lord of the Rings and appreciate Tolkien’s Christian worldview. If they have an interest in exploring some of the elements of Tolkien’s work and have an interest in virtue, this book is one that will likely be appreciated. It is a short book that for some readers (especially those who are knowledgeable about the Lord of the Rings already) will be quick to read and will also provide some thoughtful material on virtue as it is presented in Tolkien’s writings. Virtue is one of those subjects it is far easier to read about (and read about) than it is to practice, and that is something that has to be admitted when one praises works on virtue as this one is. Still, it is unlikely that people will be virtuous unless they see some sort of examples of virtue in their reading whose behaviors they can model their own after, and so books like this are practical to the extent in which they encourage others to practice the virtues contained in this book. Hopefully that is the case here.